Pornography and Power: The Case of Donald Trump

I cannot understand why women are not in open revolt.

As soon as Mr. Trump uttered those words, "blood coming out of her whatever," regarding Megyn Kelly after her forceful questioning of him, he should have been morally disqualified from candidacy. The resultant outrage should have dissolved all possibility of his ever being taken seriously again.

We know what the word "whatever" stood for. It is pornographic language barely disguised. That it has been tolerated is a sign of the depths to which our society has sunk. That, despite Ms. Kelly's expose, he does not intend to quit is obvious from Mr. Trump's comments about another woman's face, another woman's "disgusting" need to use restroom facilities, and again speaking crudely about a woman's defeat.

We used to call this "locker room" talk, suggesting male, private, subterranean -- inappropriate, but at least it was confined. When it surfaced in the office or at the dinner table, we called out our co-workers, husbands, or teenage sons. Now it is in the public realm, at top echelons of our political society, and we barely make a peep. Commentators shrug helplessly. One liberal male commentator, for example, said that Mr. Trump gets approval because he is perceived as "telling it like it is," as not caring about political correctness.

Like it is! Was that a slip of the tongue? This candidate's descriptions of women are the way things are? Surely the commentator did not mean that; but he inadvertently reinforced the common lie that Mr. Trump is somehow authentic.

As for political correctness, that is another twisted idiom. We are speaking of fundamental morality: avoiding racial, ethnic, religious or gender stereotypes in one's speech and behavior. Stereotypes are an attack on personal dignity; they reflect moral obtuseness.

Sensitivity to personal dignity requires spiritual reorientation, a Copernican revolution of the spirit that recognizes: the other is me. Mr. Trump "doesn't have time for this," and it's not what he wants for the country.

Anger at such a moral and spiritual demand comes from fear, from the deep and uncomfortable realization that the other is often mirroring back to me my vulnerability and my inadequacy. Instead of working with that realization, a person defends, denies, dismisses, and attacks. Women are a favorite target of men who have not confronted these realities - who are, in short, emotionally and spiritually immature.

Why are we now confronted by this horror of someone of inadequate moral stature, this public pornographer, aspiring to the highest office in the land and being acclaimed by a significant minority?

We vastly underestimated the simmering rage against women, who have now been daring to be fully human. We assumed the rage would pass with understanding. We did not expect it to come in the back door. We also were uncertain of all the implications of our newly achieved freedoms. We waffled when pornographers claimed they were agents of liberation, even when our inner senses told us their depictions were demeaning. We leaned left, accepting visual pornography in advertising, film and television, and helplessly listening to our everyday language degenerate into vulgar street talk.

I remember, several years ago, having to drive several times a week with my pre-teen daughters past a billboard advertising an upscale clothing chain that almost always displayed women half-naked, in provocative poses. They would turn their faces away and down, and I would feel helpless. "I hate those billboards too," was all I could say. I knew this was not liberating. I knew it was not just the fashion industry; something had gone deeply wrong.

Susan Griffin wrote of this shame and of the social illness of pornography, its sadism masquerading as liberation, more than three decades ago:

A woman who enters a neighborhood where pornographic images of the female body are displayed ... is immediately shamed. Once entering the arena of pornography, she herself becomes a pornographic image. It is her body that is displayed. . . . She cannot escape pornography without humiliation. And we know humiliation to be the essence of sadism. It is thus that pornography exists as an act of sadism toward all women.

Now, from straight-out porn sites to teen sexting, from rape on campus to pervasive verbal abuse, women everywhere have to withstand humiliation. Soraya Chemaly describes it accurately: "...Sexual surveillance of women without their consent is endemic, in which women's appearance and sexuality are constantly monitored and regulated on sidewalks, at work, and in school, and in which the shaming of women is a used as a tool to negotiate male status."

Sadly, this monitoring of women in order to shame them, as a tool to negotiate male status, is now part of one man's path toward the presidency. Ironically, it is the mirror image of the worst of the radical Islamist sects as well: surveillance, monitoring, shaming of women.

Why haven't we been speaking out? Partly because the shock caught us by surprise. Perhaps we thought Mr. Trump would quickly disappear. Not so. But even now we may think, "well, if he becomes the GOP candidate, he might be easy to beat. Let him go and fall over his own mistakes."

Don't count on it. "All it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing." Mr. Trump owned casinos, remember? Don't gamble that he will fall of his own weight. We must step up and say "No!"

Here are some other steps you can take against the pornographic culture that demeans women:

  1. Take our language back. Be a good example, first of all, and then call out your family members friends, and co-workers, who use four-letter sex or bathroom words as constant adjectives. Search for rich, vivid descriptions of your feelings instead; you may find poetry among you. Even in your intimate life, if you're uncomfortable with the presumably "sexy" language your partner uses, if it feels demeaning or violent to you, trust that feeling and ask for a change. Find sweeter words.

  • Alert your children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces to demeaning depictions of women, sexuality and the human body in the public sphere. Tell them what it is you don't like and why. Tell them "that movie would be a lot better if they took out the bad language. . . They made that into a bedroom scene for no reason." Watch a film from an earlier era or a period piece, and compare how women were portrayed and clothed.
  • Tell all your friends and relatives you will not vote for anyone who demeans women. No matter what your party, tell them. Tell them again.